30 August 2011

The Lairds of Learning

The Lairds of Learning
Who are the most ruthless capitalists in the Western world? Whose monopolistic practices makes WalMart look like a corner shop and Rupert Murdoch look like a socialist? You won’t guess the answer in a month of Sundays. While there are plenty of candidates, my vote goes not to the banks, the oil companies or the health insurers, but – wait for it – to academic publishers. Theirs might sound like a fusty and insignificant sector. It is anything but. Of all corporate scams, the racket they run is most urgently in need of referral to the competition authorities.

02 July 2011

The big five-o.

50 today.  No big celebration, just a meal & a quiet drink with family & friends.  And a few tunes later.

You are The Hierophant

Divine Wisdom. Manifestation. Explanation. Teaching.

All things relating to education, patience, help from superiors.The Hierophant is often considered to be a Guardian Angel.

The Hierophant's purpose is to bring the spiritual down to Earth. Where the High Priestess between her two pillars deals with realms beyond this Earth, the Hierophant (or High Priest) deals with worldly problems. He is well suited to do this because he strives to create harmony and peace in the midst of a crisis. The Hierophant's only problem is that he can be stubborn and hidebound. At his best, he is wise and soothing, at his worst, he is an unbending traditionalist.

What Tarot Card are You?
Take the Test to Find Out.

Heirophant?  Well, I guess I'm old enough to know better now.  Better than what remains to be seen though.  :-)

31 May 2011

"You've been saying you're a fisherman since you were seventeen..."

Stan Deely, once a dental technician from Devon Park, managed to become a highly respected artist in the 1970s, releasing 7 acclaimed hit albums and working with some of the industry's finest session musicians. Rolling Stone called his body of work "awesome in its conceptual longitude" and Down Beat even pointed out clear similarities in Deely's ouevre to similar groundbreaking work by many giants of the jass music scene such as Mavis Diles, Thunk Melonius and of course Marley Chingus.

Wherever you were in 1972, anywhere on the globe, it was hard to go through a typical day without hearing Stan Deely's first hit, You'll Do It Again Till You Get It Right, Like blasting out of some transistor or other. Carried along on an irresistable chorus and bolstered by Zedrik Turntable's electric bouzouki solo, it sent a generation out to the shopping malls in search of comfortable footwear. The ensuing album, Ain't Got A Clue (its very title a nod to Harence 'Frogman' Clenry) made real inroads on the international music scene, though prudish elements objected to its lurid cover which featured a line of girl scouts waiting in the street for the local confectionery to open.

Its 1973 follow-up, Countdown To Mitsubishi, consolidated Deely's reputation as a world-beating songwriter and prog-jazz composer, containing as it did such highly distinctive tracks as Bobby Shafto and the lightning-fingered guitar stylings of such session luminaries as Judge "Coon" Wapner and Denzel DiAdipose. Despite a warm critical reception it failed to yield any major hits, as uncannily predicted in the album track Any Major Hits (Elude You).

All was not lost for Stan, though, as tracks like Your False Teeth and Midnite Boozer garnered respect in the industry, and Reelin' In The Trout became a sleeper hit.

Stan Deely's next offering, Tayto Logic from 1974, spawned the international hit Hang On To That Number Rikki, If Ya Know What's Good For Ya Like and featured the percussive prestidigitation of session drum virtuoso Barry Towne. The following year, Stan Deely further confounded expectations with his next album, R. D. Laing, named in tribute to the British "anti-psychiatrist". Critics and fans alike were divided on this album, mostly over apparent drug references in the track Doctor Who, which dealt with the thorny topic of getting wasted and watching cult sci-fi programs.

Deely's reputation was further solidified, though, in 1976 with his fifth album, The Royal Shimozzle, which featured the international hit Tijuana Wedding as well as the FM favourite The Caves of Ailwee. For many though, Stan Deely's magnum opus came with the next album, an ode to the mysteries of the Orient entitled Chinese Takeway. Burnt out and disillusioned with the music industry, though, Deely called it a day after 1980's classic Groucho album, which featured such hits as Ballina Cisterns as well as the playing of highly respected Brit guitarist, Marc Dumbkopf (best know for his work with 'Dire and Straight').

Nearly two dissolute decades later, Stan Deely re-emerged with a searing indictment of what he felt to be the evils inflicted upon music by a certain four-piece Dublin band, his acclaimed (by everyone except Bono) comeback album U2: Against Nature and its follow-up, Everyone Must Blow.

(Thanks to Stan Deely aficionado and sometime session sideman Domhnall Óg McFagen for some illuminating insights that greatly aided the compilation of this retrospective - not bad at 40 a quarter.)

05 May 2011

another day, another danelectro

So yesterday morning I had a brainwave. I'd spent the last couple of days practising a short set for the support slot that evening. I'd thought up one at the weekend and decided, nah, scrap it. I was, in a word, Stuck. I bought a new guitar - a PRS SE custom semi-hollow - two months ago and I'm well happy with it, it's lovely and playable. But I felt I was neglecting the equally lovely twelve string electric I bought two years ago. It's a Danelectro DC-12 with a beautiful retro look and feel and I love playing it. Plus, I reflected, the twelve-string would more suit the sort of support set I was doing - a swift half hour of (hopefully) memorable tunes before the main act. I'd never used it live before… why not string it up and use it for the gig?

I'd spent the last couple of months staring at two sets of nickel-wound strings I'd had to order online especially for the twelve-string. Here in busker-town you can find a set of bronze-wound, acoustic "twelve-string strings" no problem. But nickelwound for electric? No way José. Fine if you want to be Leadbelly but not if you want to be Roger McGuinn. But praise the lord for the good people at strings.ie - I got two sets of nickelwound strings shipped practically overnight, with a voucher for a discount on my next order. They weren't cheap but they never are.

I love the sound of the twelve-string guitar. My uncle Batt had one that my mum bought for him. My dad got me a nice Eko Raider twelve-string for my 21st birthday, which was neither yesterday nor the day before. It's still going strong though it probably needs the frets done. I love the way you can get an enormous ringing sound playing simple chords with a lot of open strings. Simple arpeggios and legato figures turn into something else completely - that's the whole sound of the early Byrds right there, for instance. There's also plenty of scope for melody and lead playing if you put your mind to it. And I've always found it ideal for solo accompaniment - you're encouraged to keep your playing simple and concentrate on putting across The Song.

Anyway, I forgot about all this and left the strings in their padded envelope, on the little stand where I leave my rent money for the landlady every Saturday. And then just yesterday, feeling like I'd come up against a brick wall in terms of inspiration, I suddenly said to myself, "Stop bleeding procrastinating - string up the Danelectro and see how it feels; if it's good, it might be just the thing for the gig tonight." So in between sips of tea and reading the news online, I strung the bugger up.

The beauty and uniqueness of this type of instrument comes at a price. Twelve strings are a pain to tune and set up. For one thing, twice the amount of strings to thread, wind, and tighten. Higher tension. All those extra harmonics clanging around and confusing the ear. The Danelectro compounds the usual logistical difficulties by having the strings go two different ways into the bridge. Each pair of strings is on a separate saddle - one string is threaded in through the body, from the back, and the other string is threaded in via the bridge on the top. It's an ingenious arrangement once you get used to it and I guess it makes intonation easier. But (like all good things in life I suppose) it's worth taking the time to do things right.

So, all strung up, I rattled through a bunch of tunes again. They sounded much better this way. After months of six-string playing on guitars with smaller necks, the right hand had to work harder, but again that's part of the price you pay for admittance into the glorious, ringing, chiming, harmonically rich world of twelve-string-dom. It was a little psychological thing but it worked. I felt a lot better about the set now.

I don't usually drink before gigs, but I had a hot brandy and port in the local to clear the voice a bit, and called a taxi into town. Turned out that the sound engineer for the night was my pal and former housemate Diesel. The Tectonics soundchecked and I brought up my own bits - twelve-string, little Vox amp and a Headrush delay pedal just to thicken the sound a bit. Tuner and capo. Tried a couple of snatches of sounds and they sounded a bit rough, but eventually fell into place. I didn't really have time to do full numbers but they seemed okay. The doors open and people started coming in - fortunately a few familiar faces among them.

The night was fine. Wished more people could have been there - there was another gig on that night, and friends of the band were actually playing support. Most of the people who turned up on the night were family and friends, and a few stragglers just in to check out some new music. I don't think anyone was disappointed.

Marcus, Eoin and Seamus of the Tectonics brew up a fine power-pop sound, with the occasional touch of 80s-style 'white reggae'. Hard to describe unless you hear it for yourself. All three of them write and sing and there are some fantastic moments when their voices locked into very sweet harmonies. Eoin is a nimble but understated guitarist who makes great but economical use of effects; Marcus and Seamus (Sykes) are a rock-solid rhythm section having played together in various bands since the year dot - they're probably best known for their spell in The Big Geraniums.

I was pretty happy with my own set, I guess all the grief of preparation was worth it. Afterwards we popped into Massimo's for some late drinks. Pure joy seeing all those beautiful girls dancing; if nothing else that made the night worth it!

Thanks a million to the band for having me on as support - I'm definitely going to be doing this sort of thing more often. Gratuitous plug for Kelly's bar because it's a fine place and a more than decent music venue. As for the loudmouthed heckling arsewipe, I hope he dies roaring. Kudos also to my brother Kev (you know him, he's famous) and my pals Frank, Liam, Hugo and especially to the legendary man Diesel on sound. \m/

04 May 2011

tectonic place

They're the Tectonics, and they're launching their new single tonight in Kelly's Bar - a fine venue. Last time I was there was when the SawDocs were doing their album launch last year.

Yours truly will be playing support but I doubt I'll be doing the tune posted below ;-).  I will be doing this tune though, and probably this.  Who knows? 

Since I have the week off work, I've had plenty of time to practise a set and scrap it completely.  I was tempted to use my gorgeous new guitar but today I got this sudden hunch that it might be a good idea to string up the old Danelectro 12 and use that instead.  I don't know though, putting on 6 strings is enough of a pain in the bum...

The Tectonics will also be playing at the Mercantile in Dublin on Friday, and Eddie Murphy's in Thomastown (Co. Kilkenny) on Saturday.  Their tunes (what I've heard of them) are dead good and I hope this goes well for them. 

01 May 2011

budget day blues (redux)

Okay, here's a piece I came up with last November (yes, around the time the Budget From Hell was announced by the previous government of my country).  It's fourteen minutes long and in six parts; it starts in a pub in the winter and ends in a garden in the summer. 

Turns out I have a gig next week playing support to some folks I know.  Don't think I'll be playing this one though - I somehow doubt it would be possible to fit a four-piece horn section, viola, cello, pedal steel and piano players as well as a bassist and drummer on the stage in Kelly's.  At least not with the headlining act's backline up there too.  ;-)

Budget Day Blues breaks down as follows:

i)   the next king of ireland
ii)  budget day news
iii) meat and jam
iv) threshold
v)  harvest
vi) the loose boot

  budget day blues by theboogalaxy

16 April 2011

Highfield Park Blues

The Proclamation on the door
Said "They who shout shall shout no more,
for residents will not tolerate
The ructions of the inebriate.

"Warnings we have given thrice
That your behaviour should be nice,
Civilised, decent, above reproach,
Since on our road ye did encroach.

"But in your folly ye did choose,
With nightly revels and with booze,
To create a brazen, hideous din.
Your presence 'midst us is a sin.

"Frequent visits from the guards
Failed to daunt you or your pards;
Shame on those who did ye rear-
We mean your mother and your pere.

"A fitter place for ye to dwell
While on your merry way to Hell,
Would be a cave along the shore
Or else a Shack in Bohermore.

"On behalf of our Association
Now established through the Nation-
these, our names, we hereby sign
Michael J. and Phyllis Styne".

Highfield Park Blues is a poem from the collection Dactyl Distillations by Patrick Finnegan.  (1991) Published by Weaver Publications, Dublin.  ISBN 0951304429

PDF of the book available here

07 April 2011

"i got some money, cause i just got paid"

On Saturday night I was sitting on a sofa three feet away from the brother. We'd spent three quarters of an hour sat there without any apparent outward communication at all. Other people came and went, chatted with either of us briefly, and went on about their business. In actual fact we'd both found the venue's WiFi network with our phones and we were checking out each other's Twitter feeds, re-tweeting where appropriate.

Some of the group and their entourage had come up from the West on the bus with us. Others were already in Dublin. Still others were due to arrive, any minute now. Just about everyone from the group and crew was still jetlagged. They'd flown back from Las Vegas only three or four days ago.

I hadn't been in Dublin for almost a decade. We didn't have much time for more than a quick mooch around Temple Bar between getting off the bus and heading in to the venue, but there seemed to be a nice buzz around the place. I found myself getting a bit nostalgic walking the streets that used to house favourite old haunts - book and record stores, coffee shops, pubs, music venues - places that haven't been there in years.

The brother asked if there was anyone I could think of in Dublin that I'd like to bring along. Off the top of my head, I couldn't think of anyone. No doubt there would be a few names in the old phone book but how many people are going to be able to drop everything and fly into town for a gig on a Saturday night at a moment's notice?

Things went on smoothly enough. Everyone was tired and jaded but in good spirits, glad to be back on familiar turf, working on reserve energy. The band soundchecked, I grabbed a cup of tea, nibbled on some biscuits, tried to get the TV to work in the dressing room. I remembered playing here a couple of times in the early 90s. Apart from the flat-screen TV, the backstage/upstairs area hasn't changed much. The front has been completely transformed, several times - it's a standup venue where it used to be theatre seating. There used to be one bar, now there are three. The Celtic Tiger had its way with this place all right. There's some small reassurance that backstage things hasn't changed. Apart from the TV - and the availablity of WiFi.

After the soundcheck mesel' and the brother grab a Chinese from a place next door to the venue. Not very fancy, cheap and cheerful. I wait outside and puff on a cig - in the space of five minutes I'm approached by two different scalpers, asking for spare tickets. Kev says the gig isn't quite sold out yet, but may well be by showtime. As we're tucking in to our Chinese backstage, and getting our phones out to check Twitter, there are shouts and hoots in the street outside. A hen party.

Later, while the band are playing out front, I grab a beer and head out to the stairs where the network is a bit better. Kind of dismayed to find out the brother isn't tweeting from the stage. And yes, the band sound excellent, as ever. Going to be a long journey home, though. That's one thing I remember about those Dublin gigs.

04 April 2011

keys to your heart

The locksmith retired some time ago, but he still comes around to check on the family business. Three sons keep it going for him. He's well into his seventies but in good health. He's out walking first thing in the morning, he swims, he keeps busy.

In years gone by the locksmith was, by his own account, quite handy on the dance floor. It was back in the days of the Ballrooms of Romance, when people packed out dancehalls like Seapoint in Salthill and parked their bicycles outside. Men would line up on one side of the dancefloor, women on the other. There was no alcohol available in the dancehall, just minerals and crisps. And by all accounts there was some serious hoofing going on, and our man the locksmith was one of the best of them.

I can see him now, gliding across the floor to take some girl's hand. Making the ladies swoon and the men clench their jaw. Old Twinkletoes.

Word went around on the jungle telegraphy that there was going to be something of a 'showband show' in Seapoint sometime next week. Survivors of the showband days would all be appearing, people from the old bands. Too many names to list (though it would make for a great blog post in itself).

The old locksmith was keen to go. But tickets had sold out long ago. He wasn't too pleased about this, especially when it was made known to him that the last 50 tickets had gone, en masse, to what he referred to as "a bunch of feckin' Franciscans". He told this to the brother a few days ago in the pub. (Where else?)

My esteemed sibling later reported that the matter had been resolved. Well, kind of. When next I met the locksmith myself, I heard it straight from the horse's mouth. He had tickets for the night. Tickets had been got. The thing had been sold out weeks ago but tickets Had Been Got.

There's something about the combination of The Passive Voice and A Galway Accent that makes you not quite believe What Is Being Said. So I had to press further.

"Oh, I got tickets all right." Fair play to you, but how did you manage?

A long pause. "Someone died."

You don't know whether to laugh or cry at times like these. For my own part, I was given pause for a second, briefly fancying that there could be a bit of neat local serendipity at work.

A friend of a friend passed away just last week. An older gent, and a former musician himself - drums and trumpet (it was the time of the ballrooms, and it was a time when double jobbing might net you a few extra bob). The man was known locally. He would doubtless have been one of the first to get complimentary tickets for an event such as this.

A likely story, perhaps, but there's no reason to believe it's actually true. The gent who passed away died after what the death notices call "a long illness, bravely borne". He hadn't been active much in the past few months. The more you think about it, the less likely it is that the tickets were his.

It would be good to know, though. The locksmith for one is keen to find out.

"The least I can do," he tells me, "is find out who it is and turn up at the funeral."

25 March 2011

Stray toasters, and the horse they rode in on.

Not too long ago I said I was going to write about my old Macs.  Sad geek that I am, I shall now do so.  This is my blog, mine you hear, and if I want to post about the importance of cheese in the development of the Ottoman empire, I will, because I can, and the rest of yez can sod off. 

So there.

Around the beginning of the Nineties, I was what doctors refer to as a "full-time musician", which means that I played two or three gigs a week, appeared on a few TV and radio shows, met a lot of girls and had absolutely no money whatsoever.  (One very significant reason for this is that one member of the band decided that the rest of us were some kind of interns, whose duty it was to help him promote his songwriting career.)  Every few months I would manage to scare up some typing work.  I had a nice Brother electric typewriter -- still have it, it still works, pretty piece of kit, just can't get ribbons or daisywheels for it anywhere. 

I'd done a night course in word processing and I'd been typing ever since I was about ten years old.  I had a few friends who were still in college, and did a lot of thesis typing to keep the wolf from the door.  This was a breeze, except for one occasion where I missed a page number, and had to go back with Tipp-Ex and manually change about 80 pages.  Not fun. 

Some day I will post more about my friend Canelli.  I haven't seen him for years, but he has a knack for turning up out of the blue when you least expect it.  Like most good friends, he can be extremely helpful and kind as well as a complete toolbag when it suits him.  Still, if a friend is a friend, you should allow him to be an asshole every now and again.  Suffice it to say for the moment that I blame the whole Mac thing on Canelli.  And he will be punished, believe me. 

My friend Canelli was an engineering student at the time.  His thesis was already late, and he needed it in by Monday.  Could I help him out?  I knew it was a tall order, because I'd seen some of his notes, and they used all sorts of formulas and algorithms and fancy symbols.  It should be no problem, he said.  Did I know how to use a Mac?

A few years previously, when I was living in Chicago, a friend had asked me to do some typing for him on what must have been a Lisa or something.  That's all I did - I typed in the text and left him to format the rest.  It was an interesting little object, that little box with the picture of an apple on it.  Not as wonderful as a typewriter but it would do, at a pinch.  It would, of course, never catch on. 

Canelli brought me in to see a friend of his, who had a very pukka looking Mac II.  Not only did I get my friend's thesis done in a fraction of the time, but I also got plenty of other work done too.  I put together a very large mail-shot for a corporate physician that netted me a quite respectable wad of cash.  I managed to master the basics of Freehand (handy for all those flowcharts, formulae and symbols) as well as that newfangled programme called something like Microword Soft.  This was great.  It was easy, it was fun, it was something new, and it was Earning Me Money. 

Some time later, another friend asked me had I ever done work on a Mac.  Oh yes.  Nice little machines.  Did I want a look at his one?  It was a Quadra.  Much larger than the Classic.  The damn things were just going to get bigger and bigger, and some day, no doubt, would become so expensive that only the richest kings of Europe would be able to afford them.  He didn't actually let me use his Quadra.  It was look but don't touch.

Anyway, time marched on, this happened, that happened, I went to England.  I did some nursing training for a couple of years, before two things happened: a) I discovered that even very skilled, highly-qualified nurses make terrible money, and b) I mentioned in passing to someone that I had typing skills and knew how to turn a computer on and off.  So I ended up doing some work on a PeeCee that had no mouse, no Windows, no nothing but a couple of basic office programmes, a command line and a DOS shell.  It ran WordPerfect, Lotus 1-2-3 and dBase III, and you started up each programme by typing in some arcane bit of nonsense that looked like the name of some demonic entity in a book by H. P. Lovecraft.

I was a bitteen flummoxed.  My limited experience of Macs had spoiled me somewhat.  I'd been led to believe that all personal computers were easy and fun to use, and didn't require all that command-line voodoo.  I think the general feeling around then was that Macs, being more expensive and all, were strictly for design professionals, and there was no point doing any "real" (i.e. business-oriented) work on them.  They were an indulgence, an overpriced toy for those pampered arty-crafty types.

Anyway, another couple of years flew by.  God is that the time?  I'd better get out of here.  I'll catch up with this again at some point.  I ended up with six old Macs at one stage and I still haven't written about any of them yet.

22 March 2011

I've been worried about a particular situation at work for the last couple of weeks. I'd thought of blogging about the situation detailed below and the flurry of abusive emails from one particular academic that gave rise to this letter from my boss. I'd hoped to write about it but was also hyper-conscious of protecting peoples' privacy - even if they happen to be people who verbally attack my colleagues, myself and the people I work under.

Maybe it's old fashioned of me, but the fact that he's verbally attacked my boss (who is a woman) makes me twice as pissed off. Add to the equation that I've had dealings with the person described below plenty of times over the last ten years, and never had a problem with him before. I thought he was a decent guy. I guess I was wrong.

Dear Brendan and -----,

I’ve been out of the office for the last week, so I’m sorry that I’m only now contacting you about the wholly unacceptable emails you’ve received from ---- -------. Please rest assured that his opinion does not reflect my opinion, or library management’s generally, nor indeed the opinion of the rest of the body of academic staff about the quality of service you are providing. You are offering a fantastic service with a wonderfully helpful approach, and you most certainly don’t deserve the sort of language and tone that ---- ------- has used.

This man has been finding difficulty with absolutely everything we’ve put in place instead of [irrelevant name for outmoded service] and this last was one of many emails of the same nature I’ve received from him. I’ve also had communication from his head of school apologising to me for the language and tone that he has used in previous emails and asking us to try to ignore it – can I please ask you to try to do the same. It’s not easy I know – his emails are most upsetting, but we need to hold our heads up high and know with confidence that we’re offering a great service and he is being entirely unreasonable in his criticisms of the scanning service.

I really appreciate the great service you are offering with the scanning chapter service, and I hope that you will try to ignore these unreasonable remarks and remain confident that you are doing a great job.

Best regards,